I just received a hilarious e-mail from Danny Schechter at Democracy in Action, which wants to alert me to the vast conspiracy by Fox News to discredit CNN by attacking Eason Jordan. This mass e-mail has so many holes and fallacies in its arguments that it’s hard to know where to begin — but I’ll just start at the top:
Dear Media for Democracy Member,
Er, no. Not that I mind seeing what they produce, but I’m not a member, nor have I subscribed to any of their services.
CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan quit late last week amid a furor over remarks he allegedly made about American soldiers intentionally killing journalists in Iraq.
Allegedly? Even Jordan admitted making the remarks; he just claimed that people in attendance misinterpreted them. Eight different witnesses verified Rony Arbovitz, including Rep. Barney Frank and Senator Chris Dodd, hardly members of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy.
Jordan delivered the remarks while sitting on an off-the-record panel of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
It was so off the record, in fact, that the WEF quoted its participants in its own summary posted on the WEF website.
While no actual tape of his comments has yet to be released, an attendee disseminated news of the event into the blogosphere and ignited a firestorm, which included charges that CNN itself — not just Jordan in his personal capacity — had “slimed our troops.”
Not exactly. What we demanded was that the tape be released and that if Jordan had indeed made unsubstantiated allegations of atrocities against the US military, then CNN either needed to produce evidence of such or dismiss Jordan. If CNN failed to act, we argued, that was tantamount to supporting an act of slander, and CNN’s credibility would suffer greatly as a result. Everyone I’ve read on the subject who accused Jordan specifically of “sliming the troops” leveled that accusation only at Jordan himself.
Leading the charge was CNN competitor Fox News Channel and its sister publication, The New York Post.
Hey, I like the Post and Fox, but they hardly led any kind of media “charge”, as a review of the history will show. Fox reported briefly on a Wall Street Journal subscription-only blurb and dropped it for a week. The Post didn’t do a lot more with it until a couple of days before Jordan’s resignation. Hugh Hewitt could have been said to have led the charge, perhaps. The ignorance of Schechter shines through with this silly lie.
Members of Congress piled on with angry demands for evidence although the tone of their remarks suggested a total denial of the possibility that Jordan may know something that they didn’t.
Here’s where we get to the true stupidity of Schechter’s e-mail. First, members of Congress objected from the moment the words flew out of Jordan’s mouth, because he had no evidence for his allegations. Barney Frank asked him for evidence during the forum, and as David Gergen repeats ad nauseam these days, Jordan “walked it back” to mistaken identity after being challenged.
But more directly, Eason Jordan runs one of the world’s largest news agencies, whose business is informing people of what they do not already know. If Eason Jordan had specific evidence of these atrocities, it should have led their news program at prime time in America and around the world. Does Schechter think that CNN is some sort of commercial CIA? In Schechter’s world, do journalists and news execs run around telling people about the stories they have and then spike them just to pique their interest?
Does Schechter have any clue how obtuse that statement reads?
Instead, Jordan’s patriotism and CNN’s integrity was attacked.
Yes. Selling anti-Americanism in order to gain access to foreign markets that salivate for it, and lying about our own troops to do so, does strike some of us as rather unpatriotic. Stoking hatred of American service members merely to bolster one’s bottom line does not reflect well on one’s integrity, and since Jordan represents CNN in these forums, that reflects poorly on CNN’s integrity as well.
Schechter then flags three “urgent issues” for me to consider:
1. Do media executives have a right to express opinions that deviate from the official line? Media companies should defend the rights of their employees to take part in democratic debate without fears of recriminations. The conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal and the World Editors Forum have rushed in to defend Jordan’s right to express controversial opinions without intimidation.
Media companies should defend the rights of all people to take part in debate without fear of recrimination. Free speech, however, does not protect libel and slander. Nor does claiming “intimidation” every time someone criticizes one’s speech create a debate; that argues for an echo chamber, where only one side gets to talk. That model has expired, and Schechter doesn’t much like it.
As for the WSJ and the World Editors Forum, if they truly have done what Schechter says, they’ve missed the point. Jordan didn’t just express an opinion, he made specific allegations of criminal conduct, and he did so on more than one occasion. Even if it was just his opinion, we have a right to criticize tha opinion by expressing our own opinions, and when he fails to produce evidence, then Jordan looks like an idiot, a sell-out, and/or a liar. The First Amendment doesn’t protect one from the consequences of their speech.
2. Do media companies have an obligation to investigate and not just denigrate?
Yes! That was our entire point! If Eason Jordan thinks that the American military assassinates and tortures journalists, then he has a responsibility to investigate and produce evidence before issuing denigrating and slanderous accusations. After all, Jordan ran one of the largest media companies in the world.
CNN, Reuters, the Associated Press, AFP and other media outlets should take a fresh look at these charges to determine their validity.
Perhaps they can do that after they report on what Jordan actually said in the first place. None of the agencies named by Schechter have called for the release of the Davos videotape or have reported on Jordan’s similar charges in November 2004 or October 2002.
3. Are we who care about integrity in the media willing to stand up to protect free speech during a time of war? While this issue is often spun as a left-right story, it’s about much more than that. We are all paying dearly for this war. Shouldn’t we Americans have a right to know what’s being done in our name?
That’s two separate issues — free speech and transparency in government. I have to say that someone who sends out as badly researched and antagonistic a message as this, and then has the nerve to imply that free speech is an endangered species, has got a serious screw loose. Anyone who experienced the vitriol and personal attacks on the streets during this past election aimed at our current president and his staff should have recognized that the First Amendment remains alive and well. In fact, I think campaign-finance reform constitutes a much greater threat to political speech than anything Schechter argues in this missive.
In terms of transparency, Schechter wants news agencies to pull soldiers out of units to be available for journalists’ investigations at whim. However, Schechter fails to recognize that journalists accompanied US troops into Baghdad and given their own testimony to the notion that American troops targeted journalists during the battle. Jules Crittendon of the Baltimore Sun was embedded with the unit that fired on the Palestine Hotel, the premier incident which people like Schechter point out as evidence of an assassination strategy, and thoroughly debunks it. Why doesn’t Schechter simply pick up the phone and ask Crittendon?
Schechter can send all the e-mail missives he likes, but his arguments are losers. He gets his facts wrong, he mixes his arguments, and he can’t determine the difference between oppression and opposition. Having people like Schechter on their side may well be the primary reason CNN pushed Eason Jordan out the door.